1. Engage a designer who has experience in construction – when you engage someone who does not have experience the mistakes are easily missed by you, the untrained eye. For an example, using pavers that are 500/500m and then designing an area with say, 2650mm by 7780mm. the result is you have a paver having to be cut down to a slither and the aesthetics are reduced. Or, a tree planted beside a pool fence, which you later find is not approved by council because you have provided children with a climbing area to get in the pool. Another example is that the designer includes a deck which after being built the council come around to inspect; you find out it was built over an easement and they will not approve it and you have to remove it. There are so many things the inexperienced designer can get wrong and you can pay thousands on fixing these mistakes. 

  2. Portfolio – never engage a designer without seeing his work and getting confidence in what has been designed. Question their involvement in the construction to see if they were a guide to the construction contractor, or if the contractor actually enhanced the design with his ideas.

  3. The hidden quicksand – A designer unfamiliar with codes to comply with, can design a beautiful garden and have all manner of elements not meet code. E.g. a pond 400mm deep that doesn’t have a protective barrier (anything over 300mm needs a pool fence or barrier to safeguard children); Building a pergola just outside an easement still requires authorisation from the authority who’s asset is there. This can be due to pressure outside the easement that bears down on pipes and causes damage.

  4. Designing with no budget in mind – I have been given a design by a client and asked to quote on it and found it to cost twice what their budget could stretch to. A designer who cannot give you an estimate of costs ‘as you design’ can lead you to have a wonderful design that you cannot afford to build.

  5. Unfamiliarity with materials – Once a month I receive a design done by others where I have to inform them that we need to change something. E.g. the client wants a salt pool with sandstone to surround it and chooses Gosford stone (which is beautiful). The designer neglects to inform the client that each paver must be ‘dip-sealed’ and allowed to dry before it can be laid around the pool. Not doing this means the sandstone can be eaten away by the salt.

  6. Concept & Master Plan, what is the difference – this is an area you can really get caught out on. By definition a Concept is defined as, “a general notion or idea”. A master plan is a “detailed plan showing all key elements; materials to be used; to scale”. I have had clients say, “sorry we have engaged another designer as he was half the cost of yours” – then a short time later the client comes back and asks me to provide a quotation to build it. I look at the design and tell them they got a ‘concept, not master plan’. So what is the difference? The note says, ‘Granite pavers’. What type of granite, what colour of grout, does it need to be sealed? Or, a tag that says, “bessar walls”, again, what height; what thickness; what finish; etc. I recently sent a reply to a prospective client and based on the supposed master Plan that was really a concept plan, asked 17 points that needed clarification as it was not detailed on the design. My usual response to all these is, “go back to your designer and get them to ‘detail’ the design as to materials and colour and finishes, and then I can provide a costing. The problem here is that they feel embarrassed to go back to the designer and have problems thereafter.

  7. Is the Master Plan all I need? – a common practice is that a designer gives you the design and you source someone to construct it. To build the project the contractor needs dimensions and levels and ‘construction drawings’ that detail exactly how to build it. If you do not have these drawings you rely upon the contractor to detail in the quotation E.g. all pedestrian paving to be 500/500/20mm sawn bluestone mortared onto an 80mm minimum thick concrete foundation with F62 reinforcing that is laid on a minimum of 50mm of compacted crushed rock, on a solid soil foundation. The slope of paving is to be 1:100…..you see the amount of detail required? And when you read this, how do you know it is right? The old phrase, ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ is very accurate. Always have construction drawings and avoid costly ‘interpretations’.

  8. Permit drawings – if you engage a designer inexperienced with permits you will have to then pay a draftsman to create drawings for the council to approve.

  9. Does the designer offer a service to supervise the construction? – So you remove the old shed and the dying hedge and all of a sudden you see a small view of the ocean (wouldn’t that be nice). But the design says to plant a thick tree and block this view you never knew you had. When a designer stays throughout the construction phase they can offer advise on small design changes to maximise surprises so the result is the best it can be.

  10. Ah, who needs a designer; just get the landscaper to draw on a napkin! – We call them, ‘Napkin designs’ they are quick sketches of what is on offer. For all the above reasons, never do this. Also understand, a landscaper will suggest the materials they like to use; style they like to build; and avoid the difficult, in most cases, not all. A designer will offer you creative ideas that provide a wonderful garden to enjoy. Decide what you want as a result and engage who you think will produce the best outcome!